A sharp decline in mass media spending in last year led to the lowest overall lobbying expenditures in New Jersey in half a decade.

Last year, spending totaled $56.6 million which is $17.5 million or nearly 24 percent less, than the 2011 total. The information comes courtesy of the 2012 annual lobbying report released today by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).

(Flickr photo buddawiggi)

“The most important factor in driving down lobbying activity last year was the lack of any riveting issue,’’ says Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director. “This factor, more than anything else, explains why lobbying activity goes up one year and down the next.”

The figures for 2012 are considered preliminary because a few firms still have not filed their annual reports. Brindle says the main cause of the decrease is a large reduction in communications spending by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).

In 2011, the NJEA had total lobbying expenditures of over $11.2 million, but last year the group shelled out just under $410,000. That’s a 96% drop off.

“NJEA has long been one of the state’s major lobbyists,” explains Brindle. “Its spending and overall lobbying totals reached unprecedented levels in 2010 and 2011 due to major ad campaigns by the teachers union.’’

With NJEA scaling back its communications spending, total communications outlays fell to less than $2.2 million, the lowest point since 2005. The $15.2 million total in 2011 was the largest expenditure ever on communications. The largest communications spender in 2012 was AARP NJ, which spent $328,964.